It’s a bit of an outlandish claim, to say that some pictures and words thrown together on a page are able to affect your life in any meaningful way. But then, movies and novels change people’s lives every day, so why not comic books? The power of words is able to save people from themselves, or make them realize something that they thought they’d never realize, altering the direction that their life will take as a result, and comics are no different.
In this spotlight, I will look at some of the comics that have made me sit back and change how I approach both comic books in general, and life as a whole.
Spider-Man: The Clone Saga
Relevant issues: Pretty much every Spider-Man comic between 1994 and 1996
What better place to start than at the beginning? When I was younger, the first proper Spider-Man comic books that I bought were the UK Astonishing Spider-Man titles, and I probably couldn’t have picked a worse time. The Clone Saga is known for being convoluted, confusing, unnecessarily long, and just plain daft. However, I loved it to pieces. It was the first true storyline that I read, and whilst I didn’t read all of it the first time through (that came a bit later), I found myself completely lost in some of my favourite characters’ lives through such a tough period that I couldn’t put down each and every issue. This is where my love of comic books began, and is definitely something that changed my life.
This storyline is likely what made me get into comic books properly, and as a result, changed what I would be spending most of my income on for the coming years. I’m not quite sure what I’d be spending my money on otherwise, but it probably wouldn’t give me as much enjoyment as the comic books I continue to buy, even now.
The Clone Saga also introduced me to Ben Reilly, who rapidly became one of my favourite characters, but I think that’s an entirely different spotlight. In fact, the main thing The Clone Saga showed me is that just because a storyline or series isn’t liked by the majority, doesn’t mean that you can’t like it. Your own opinion is the most important—if you like it, don’t let anyone tell you any different!
Relevant issues: We3 (2004) #1-3
I’ve mentioned a few times in different reviews that comics invoking some kind of emotional response, like anger, or more usually sadness, is a surefire way to make sure that I review your comic highly. If it is affecting me on such a level that I have a physical response to something that goes on in your comic, you’re doing something right as a writer, at least for me. And there’s no comic that has done this moreso than Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s We3.
About halfway through the first issue of We3, I started to tear up. Once the second issue was in full flow, so was I. And I can remember having to put the book down when reading the third issue because I needed to wipe my eyes, I couldn’t see a damn thing to finish the pages. I was in absolute torrents of tears throughout this comic, and I’ve never re-read it to this day for fear of the same thing happening. We3 will make you go and hug your pets, and wipe your nose on them after all your crying.
This level of intense emotion from a comic book was probably one of the first times that I realized how powerful they are as a medium, and upped my appreciation of them as a whole. I’ve always been an advocate of being kind to animals, and I defy you to read We3 and not begin to share the same view. I couldn’t even spend very long looking up a picture for this section of the spotlight without feeling sad looking at panels from the issues.
Kieron Gillen’s Journey Into Mystery
Relevant issues: Journey Into Mystery (1952) #622-645, New Mutants (2009) #41-43, Mighty Thor (2010) #18-22
Regular readers of my reviews of Journey Into Mystery are probably sick to death of me talking about this series and how much I love it. At the time of writing this spotlight, the final issue of Kieron Gillen’s tenure on the series hasn’t been published yet, but given the precedent that almost every other issue has set, I’m willing to bet that the final issue won’t do anything to make me want to change what I have to say about the book.
Encompassing numerous issues, as well as two crossovers, Journey Into Mystery is a sweeping epic that builds from the get-go, with every little detail being important later on and absolutely nothing being written without a reason. There’s so much detail in every arc and issue of this series, and none of it goes to waste, culminating in a final storyline that draws on everything to give a big blow-out finale, all the while, keeping the journey that the main characters go through the centre piece of the series.
This series taught me the depth of character development and the varied forms that it can take. Even characters that you think are utterly predictable can be totally unpredictable in the right hands, and Journey Into Mystery will keep you guessing about pretty much every character’s motivation, all the way up to the end. The series itself even looks at the power that the written word has, and that alone should get it a place on this list.
Relevant issues: Thunderbolts (1997) #1-75, #100-174, New Thunderbolts (2001) #1-18, Dark Avengers #175-current, and numerous one-shot issues and annuals.
I can’t even remember the reason I started reading this series. Back when I was first branching out from just Spider-Man comics, I started on Thunderbolts fairly soon after that. I tracked down and read every issue of the series from their first appearance onwards, and have been a firm fan of the book through every incarnation of it (except perhaps the infamous Fightbolts arc).
For those that don’t know, the Thunderbolts began as a team of villains masquerading as heroes, who then decided that they liked being heroes instead and began to work towards redemption. The theme of the book has always been change, and the team has altered, as has their core idea, from issue #1 up to the current Dark Avengers incarnation of the book. They’ve worked for the government, hunted down rogue heroes, been a black-ops team of mercenaries, and even escaped through time and space, but one thing has remained constant: the Thunderbolts have always been a team of characters that are underused and underappreciated.
This series showed me that not just big, popular characters can be your favourites; Songbird is one of my favourite female superheroes as a result of this series, and I live for the day that she becomes the Avenger she deserves to be. Thunderbolts also showed me how worthwhile it is sticking with a book when a creative team or storyline changes. Giving a new direction a try before dropping it is something that I always try to do, even if a superb writer is being swapped out for one I’m not so enthused about. Everyone has to start at the bottom, and by giving writers the benefit of the doubt, I’ve discovered series that were surprisingly good and that I might have missed by jumping off when creative teams changed. Thunderbolts shows the value of change, and that it isn’t always a scary thing.
Geoff Johns and Sean McKeever’s Teen Titans
Relevant issues: Teen Titans (2003) #1-26, #29-46, #50-71, Terror Titans (2006) #1-6
And finally, we end with two very long runs on DC’s premiere teenage superhero books. Like The Clone Saga getting me into comic books proper, the Teen Titans cartoon was my entry point into DC comics. I’ve not seen much/any of the Batman/Superman/Justice League cartoons, though I am working to remedy that, so I didn’t really know much about many of the characters or their villains. But I wanted to, and so I picked a comic series that I thought I might have a good chance of understanding, having seen the cartoon, and the rest is history.
The Teen Titans series introduced me to some of my favourite DC characters, as well as teaching me about the DC Universe as a whole. Whilst reading through the Teen Titans series, I read Infinite Crisis (since it was referenced in one of the issues), and from there jumped to some of Geoff Johns’ other work, such as his JSA and Green Lantern series, which remain some of my favourite books. When Johns left the book, McKeever took over, and his run on the book introduced me to the wonders of Jaime Reyes’ Blue Beetle series, which lead me back to Infinite Crisis, and into 52, and from there to Booster Gold, and you can see where I’m going with this by now, right?
Teen Titans taught me that jumping in at the deep end of a comic series that you’re interested in is one of the best ways to learn about the characters and the universe as a whole. I feel that readers today are often fixated on the need for a new #1 or jumping on point, when half the fun is diving in at a random point and learning everything as you go. Trying a new series will get you to read things you’ve never even considered before, and opens up a whole new realm of possibilities. Without the Teen Titans series, I probably wouldn’t be reading as many DC series as I am now, and would have missed out on some superb storylines.
And there you have it. Five series or storylines that have had a profound effect on how I approach comic books and continue to make choices about what I want to read next. Comic books, like novels, movies, or other pastimes, have a vast amount of choice involved—do you want to read this horror series? Or how about some crime solving? Marvel? DC? Something else? With all of these titles out there, it’s nice to know that all of them will bring you something different, and will likely teach you something about what you enjoy and inform your choices further down the line.
Hopefully my spotlight has been informative for you; let me know in a reblog or the comments section below how comics have affected you!